You want to know what the biggest obstacle to dealing with climate change is? Simple: time. It will take decades before the carbon dioxide we emit now begins to have its full effect on the planet’s climate. And by the same token, it will take decades before we are able to enjoy the positive climate effects of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions now. (Even if we could stop emitting all CO? today, there’s already future warming that’s been baked into the system, thanks to past emission.)
That is the lead of Bryan Walsh‘s excellent Time article called “Why We Don’t Care About Saving Our Grandchildren From Climate Change.” It covers much of the ground we covered in SuperFreakonomicsbut probably does a better job in laying out the inherent conflicts of climate change — long-term problem vs. short-term incentives — without enraging people.
Walsh writes about a paper that, in an experimental setting, asked research subjects to pool their investments to address climate change, with a variety of time horizons. There are all kinds of nits to pick with the experiment — it’s an experiment, for one — but it’s well worth pondering:
Unsurprisingly, the more delayed the payout was, the less likely the experimental groups would put enough money away to meet the goal to stop climate change. Even among those who knew they’d get the payout the next day, only seven of 10 groups invested sufficient funds, while none of the 11 groups who knew their endowment would be invested in planting trees gave enough money to “stop” climate change. While this is just one experiment, the results do not bode well for humanity’s ability to come together to stop climate change.